As India’s cultures shift, people are traveling more for the Diwali holiday and finding ways to celebrate the festival season in hotels.
NEW DEHLI, India—Diwali, celebrated by many as India’s biggest festival,pays obeisance to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, as well as to other religious deities. It’s also associated with family celebrations, and people buying clothes, jewelry and electronics.
While the festival traditionally was celebrated at home, hoteliers say they are seeing a growing trend of hotel business picking up, as more and more people spend the holiday traveling.
Aman Nath, chairman and co-founder of Neemrana Hotels, said that while it’s still traditional for Indians in India and living abroad to celebrate Diwali at home, he’s seeing a growing trend of people celebrating in hotels instead.
“In the metro and (secondary) cities, people have started going to the hotels for a vacation/holiday rather than celebrating Diwali at home,” Nath said. “They have a holiday, (they shop) and (they) don’t want to breathe carbon dioxide. The scale and madness of celebrations in the city has become maddening.”
Socioeconomic and cultural shifts in recent years have made celebrating Diwali away from home no longer a taboo, sources said.
“This trend is certainly picking up even though it is still in its nascent stage,” said Davinder Juj, GM at Eros Hotel Nehru Place in New Delhi.
“Diwali is a festive time for one and all; (a) very small segment of people have started going out to resort locations instead of staying at home—(an) idea that was unconceivable until a few years back. It will be difficult to put any figures to it yet, but this new trend is steadily picking up,” Juj said.
What’s driving the trend?
What seems to be propelling this growth is that ingrained customs are slowly being replaced.
Traditionally, people stayed at home to receive guests and share sweets.
“Sometimes people do book the hotels and host their guests for Diwali,” Nath said. “But social norms have changed too. One can leave sweets /gifts with the staff.”
Hotels also benefit from a cultural shift where people are enjoying more and more independence.
“People do like to socialize with their family and friends during festivals, but at the same time they relish their independence too,” Juj said. “Yes, there is an increased bent toward staying in hotels even while visiting family and friends during festive season. This is more so in the case of people visiting from abroad. Also, as per the latest trends, small family get together, and socializing happens over lunches and dinners at hotels.”
Religious pilgrimages and pollution-free getaways also are driving this change.
Abhijeet Umathe, director of business development for Keys Hotels, said that hotels along religious circuits often see higher bookings during festival season, citing his company’s properties in Tirupati and Shirdi. “Wanting to spend the festival by visiting a temple or religious center is a reason,” he said.
Others just want to get away from all the commotion.
“In Delhi, the pollution in recent years sees many people travel to less polluted destinations during Diwali. These resorts are typically near the city, reachable within a few hours of driving,” Umathe said.
The timing of Diwali in the fall makes it a good kick-off for India’s busy festival season, Umathe said. “
This is the beginning of the peak seasons with local holidays, and it also heralds the onset of foreign tourist arrivals,” Umathe said. “The trend generally varies depending (on geography and hotel segment). It is a secular trend.”
Umathe added leisure hotels and resorts see the most business during festival season.
“The growth during the festival season is more pronounced in the leisure hotel or resort segment, and business locations … see lower growth as most (businesses) close for Diwali,” Umathe said. “It can be said that there is an emerging trend for people to celebrate (by spending) the Diwali break in leisure properties. Our leisure properties in Goa and Mahabaleshwar witness near full occupancies from the festival season onwards.”
All of this cultural change has provided hotels opportunities to celebrate Diwali in their own ways and offer promotions and travel packages.
“We have always tried to focus on cracker-less Diwali and to celebrate the festival with lighting, decoration, diyas, candles and illumination of the Fort Palaces and other Neemrana properties,” Nath said, referring to a shift by some away from traditional fireworks celebrations during Diwali and to instead help in the quest to reduce air pollution and noise. “The majority of our North India hotels serve buffet meals to the guests. But on major occasions we increase the spread of the buffet to have a variety of festival items.”
Juj said the Eros Hotel Nehru Place finds plenty of ways to market the holidays to various types of groups and people celebrating.
“The significant revenue at this period comes from sales of gift hampers and Diwali parties hosted by companies to celebrate the occasion,” Juj said. The hotel also offers special accommodations and food and beverage packages, including outdoor catering, marketed to people celebrating away from home as well as tourists.
And the hotel’s gift hampers, which are personalized, customized and delivered are something Juj calls “a standout feature during Diwali week.”
In general, Diwali and the rest of India’s festival season plays a role in helping boost hotel performance for the year.
“During the monsoon (season) in resorts, business drops by nearly 15 – 20%, Umathe said. “It is during the festival season that the resorts looks to recover. This year is no different. There is a double-digit growth at an average of 15 – 35% in the industry and we are no different. The aim is to maximize value during this set of holidays.”